BWW Exclusive: Preview of INSIDE ACT: HOW TEN ACTORS MADE IT AND HOW YOU CAN TOO- with Robert Clohessy!
Why do some actors make it and others don't? Ken Womble sets out to find the answer to this question, one that has fascinated and tormented him for years, in his new book, INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too (Hansen Publishing Group, 373 pages, $24.99). To celebrate the release, BroadwayWorld will be featuring chapter previews from the new book. Today, hear from Robert Clohessy!
INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too identifies what sets successful actors apart. For Womble it's about the inner choices, the inside acts of working actors acts that have propelled them to thriving careers in one of the most competitive professions on the planet.
Robert Clohessy won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble in HBO's Boardwalk Empire and Best Actor awards in three film festivals for the feature film Crimson Mask. He was nominated for a Tony Award (Best Play Revival-Ensemble) for Broadway's Twelve Angry Men. He was also nominated for best supporting actor for his performance as Touchstone in As You Like It for the New Jersey Professional Theatres and for best actor in Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune by the Northeast Professional Theatres.
Recently, he played Bradley Cooper's Chief in The Place Beyond the Pines and Leo DiCaprio's lawyer in The Wolf of Wall Street.
I Want to Do What I Want to Do
[The following is an excerpt from the Robert Clohessy chapter in Ken Womble's INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made It-And How You Can Too. It is available as a paperback and as an ebook. The entire Robert Clohessy chapter is available as a separate ebook.]
Ken Womble: Was there a moment when you decided to be an actor and nothing else? Or did it just sort of happen to you as opposed to you making it happen?
Robert Clohessy: I never really decided to be an actor Ken, I've got to tell you. Even after being on TV shows, I was always off thinking I was going to do something else. And it wasn't going to last. I didn't feel it having longevity. I never felt like I was a really good actor. I felt I had things to offer, but I never felt like, "Oh, I want to be a freaking star or I'm a great actor." I was just doing it for fun or for the experience, you know. I was more into being a part of a family situation. I like going back to the people that I like.
KW: Do you still feel that way?
RC: Yeah. That's why I really like working with Bonnie Monte at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. I mean, I really like her. I like being a part of it. You know, I feel like I'll do stuff with her until I am dead.
KW: Did you ever train professionally?
RC: Herbert Berghof came up and directed the last play we did at SUNY Purchase. And he offered for me to study with him free. So I went down there [to HB Studios in New York] right away and studied with him for the summer and ended up doing a couple of plays with him.
I remember two things he said to me: one, he used the word "destination." You're on stage and you have a destination. You go from here to there. But it's also hooked up with destiny which is kind of like a through line of action for the whole thing. I always thought that was a good word.
And the other thing he always used to say was [in a playful voice], "I love my problems. My problems are my problems. You have your own problems. I love my problems. I love talking about my problems. I love dealing with my problems. They're my problems."
I think for young actors the most important thing is managing their intellectual and emotional life. You know, coming to terms with themselves and that has to do with their own problems. It's really about becoming friends with your problems so that you can use them, but more importantly that you can live a happier life.
And that's a tricky thing, you know. Some actors are fortunate enough to have great parents who tutored them and cared for them, so when they hit nineteen, they had their shit together and they kind of have a direct course of action. But most people are troubled by a lot of stuff. And you have to find a way to manage those troubles, your problems, your emotional life so that you are able to one, live a good life, and two, use all that stuff in your work.
KW: Do you still audition for things?
KW: So what are thinking about when you walk into the audition room? Is it more technical, or are you trying to be the character or are you just trying to relax? What's going on?
RC: I think the most important thing is to be relaxed. Be in a place where you just don't freaking care. Then you can play "make believe."
What I do sometimes is pump myself up by starting a dialogue with myself, like a pre-dialogue to what the scene is about. I'm trying to use the situation in the audition process as something analogous to the situation that I'm in at the audition.
RC: Do you know what I mean? So you have a relationship with the casting director. That's a real person. Do you know this person? Have you seen this person before? So you're asking all these same questions about the auditioner that you would ask about the character. As a way of focusing your energy so that when the time comes you're right there with it.
How is this room and this space and the person you're talking to-how is it related to the room and the space and the person who you talk to in the scene? So you're trying to use that person more specifically.
Bonnie Monte: Artistic Director
KW: Bob told me about being cast in a musical at Williamstown, directed by Bruce Paltrow, but then getting an offer to do another show that an agent he was freelancing with had gotten him. That show would have made him Equity. Are you familiar with that?
BM: Yeah, Lucky Lucy, that was all part of the Williamstown stuff.
KW: He told me he decided to stay in the musical, not knowing that Bruce Paltrow was producing St. Elsewhere at the time, because he wanted to. However, he lost the agent he was freelancing with and he didn't get into Equity. What does that say about him? That he decided to stay with something that didn't, at the time didn't seem as promising as the other option?
BM: Well it says volumes, and it's what separates Bob from most people. He follows his heart and his instincts.
And the moral of the story is it paid off great because Bruce Paltrow was probably one of the most powerful men in Hollywood television at the time and took care of Bob in a lot of ways. And Bruce's wife, Blythe Danner, became very fond of Bob and that decision was a very smart one whether he knew it or not at the time.
It is what continues to make him a very smart guy, a very beloved guy, and it sets him apart. It makes him an artist as opposed to just an actor.
KW: I don't know if he thinks of himself as an artist.
BM: I don't think he does, and he should because he is. He's a great artist.
KW: I'm sure he would love to hear that because he doesn't toot his own horn very much. We had a long interview, and I had to kind of push him to tell me...
BM: Oh, he's very modest, yes.
KW: What is he like to work with?
BM: With Bob there's a joy in doing the work. I mean nobody, unless you're you know, Brad Pitt, is getting paid enough to be miserable. It's a tough life for directors, it's a tough life for actors, it's a tough life for anybody involved in the theatre, and he's fun and he's funny.
You know, I worked with him on and off for years including a kind of high-profile project at the Manhattan Theatre Club. He could goof around like crazy, but the minute we started that rehearsal there was an extraordinary level of professionalism and skill.
I was thrilled to see how his skill set had developed over the years. And all of that kind of raw talent that I saw when he was a young, young man was there, but it had been completely fine tuned by many years of experience.
Walt Witcover: Acting Teacher
KW: You were Bob Clohessy's acting professor at the State University of New York at Purchase in the late 1970s and early '80s.
KW: Do you recall some of your first impressions of him?
WW: Always very strong, very positive. I remember Bob playing in Yellow Jack, remember that Sydney Howard play about the conquest of yellow fever in the 1890s? Bob was one of the young officers, and he made a very commanding appearance as he broke through the walls and he marched into the audience.
We had a very good four-year class of training. By the time they got through, they knew what they were doing pretty well. And yes, it was very clear that Bob had what it takes.
KW: Bob and I met on a tour of The Taming of the Shrew. Bob played Petruccio and my impression of him was that he was very natural, truthful, and funny.
WW: Natural, truthful and funny, three good words. He has a natural reality that audiences relate to.
KW: What was he like to teach?
WW: As an actor he was continually adventurous in what he chose to do.
KW: By adventurous do you mean he would take actor risks?
WW: Yes. That's right. He recently did Bottom [at The Shakespeare Festival of New Jersey], and he has a wonderful affinity for connecting with real people in a Shakespearian way. He makes them come alive, you know.
KW: In your long career you've taught and directed some wonderful actors, F. Murray Abraham, Jane Alexander, Jerry Stiller, John Leguizamo to name a few. What are some of the qualities that they share as actors?
WW: They bring a very personal reality to the stage. When you see them, you know they're there. You mentioned Leguizamo and Jane Alexander. They always make something very personal, and they make an impression that you know they're not like someone else. I guess that's what we call a star thing, right? Star category.
KW: Do you see any of those same qualities in Bob?
WW: You pick him out. You recognize that's a person who is alive at this moment. He takes that character, and he turns it inside out. So you never forget him.
Ken Womble interviews actors Debra Monk, Eric Ladin, Krysta Rodriguez, Tony Yazbeck, James Earl, Gary Beach, John Tartaglia, Robert Clohessy, Jose Llana and Richard Portnow about their inside acts, the important choices of their acting careers. The interviews explore the intriguing journeys that have led these actors to successful careers, and to Tony, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards, the most prestigious acting awards in theater and television.
Actor interviews are followed by interviews with two of each actor's success team, the agents, managers, directors and coaches who know them well. Womble then identifies the actor's most frequently used actions, skills and beliefs the keys to each actor's success.
INSIDE ACT is available as a paperback and as an ebook. Each actor chapter is also available as individual ebooks. Click here to purchase now!